MOSCOW -- The two leading candidates for the Russian presidency, Boris N. Yeltsin and Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, squared off -- for an unprecedented election campaign yesterday by selecting heroes of the war in Afghanistan as their running mates.
But in keeping with their political stances, Mr. Yeltsin chose an ex-prisoner of war who has split the Communist Party by founding a reformist faction, while Mr. Ryzhkov chose the conservative last commander of Soviet troops in the disastrous 10-year war.
Mr. Yeltsin announced his selection of air force Col. Alexander V. Rutskoy, 44, without comment at the end of a televised interview last night, appearing to relish the surprise that he had chosen a Communist. Mr. Ryzhkov revealed his choice of Col. Gen. Boris V. Gromov, 48, at a news conference.
The third major presidential candidate, Vadim V. Bakatin, former Soviet minister of internal affairs and now an adviser to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, had already named his running mate: Rabazan Abdulatipov, a Yeltsin critic and chairman of one of the houses of the Russian parliament.
It is no accident that both of the new vice presidential choices are military men. Amid rising ethnic violence and crime, many Russians are calling for "order" and discipline, which the Soviet army represents for many. Both men have considerable followings, though General Gromov, currently serving as deputy minister of internal affairs, is better known.
By choosing him, Mr. Ryzhkov, 62, the former Soviet prime minister, rounds out his ticket as the representative of the status quo: the Communist ruling class, the regulatory bureaucracy, the military-industrial complex and the existing system of collective and state farms.
Between now and Election Day, June 12, they are likely to speak out for greater discipline, preservation of the Soviet Union in its existing borders and a cautious approach to economic change.
Mr. Ryzhkov has already been endorsed by the notoriously reactionary Russian Federation Communist Party and by the major conservative faction in the Soviet parliament, called Soyuz (Union).
The choice made by Mr. Yeltsin, 60, chairman of the Russian parliament, appears to be far more of a political coup. Since quitting the Communist Party himself last summer, Mr. Yeltsin has emerged as the patron saint of Democratic Russia, the major anti-Communist reform coalition. With no other major radical anti-Communist candidate in the race, he will inevitably get the votes of anti-Communists and backers of radical reform, though some may grumble about his Communist running mate.
But by choosing Colonel Rutskoy, Mr. Yeltsin stands to cut significantly into the votes of Communist Party members and sympathizers that would otherwise go naturally to Mr. Ryzhkov or Mr. Bakatin.
Colonel Rutskoy's presence on the ticket is likely to have the psychological impact of making it possible for Communists to vote for Mr. Yeltsin.
Colonel Rutskoy created a sensation in March at the Russian Congress of People's Deputies by announcing the formation of "Communists for Democracy."
Since then, he has founded a broad reform coalition called Civil Consensus and reaffirmed his ties to Mr. Yeltsin.